Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th August 2020

The end of the last period very much set the scene for this week’s seriously autumnal weather as Storm Francis lashed the UK with south-westerly gusts reaching almost 80 mph on 25th. Loosely associated with this was a small influx of Shags, while the week’s headline bird, a Wryneck, was trapped and ringed in the north of the county.

Against the backcloth of building wildfowl numbers, there was no change to last week’s species mix, with all the established ‘favourites’ still in situ. These included the Pink-footed Goose at Hollowell Res on 22nd and the female Ruddy Shelduck at the same site on 26th, at least one Garganey at Pitsford Res from 22nd to 24th and a new one at Summer Leys LNR on 26th. A female Red-crested Pochard visited Stanford Res on 22nd, while two drakes and a female remained at Pitsford between 24th and 26th.

Garganey, Pitsford Res, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Albeit late in the season, a male Quail was heard singing from an Oat field in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 27th. For anyone who’s missed out this year, it’s a long wait until next spring … Meanwhile, down in the Nene Valley, up to three Cattle Egrets were still to be found at Stanwick GP between 23rd and 27th. Stanwick was also one of four sites to produce Great Egrets this week, with up to two present throughout the period, while Pitsford and Summer Leys produced three apiece and one was found at the lake in the extensive grounds of Boughton House, Geddington, on 24th.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

However, the species very much in the spotlight this week was Shag, a localised, Midlands influx of which delivered one to Pitsford on 22nd, followed by four there on 23rd and seven on 24th, from when numbers dropped to three on 26th and two on 27th-28th. One also roosted on the dam at Stanford on 27th, remaining there the following day. All birds were juveniles.

Juvenile Shags, Pitsford Res, 25th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Juvenile Shag, Pitsford Res, 26th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Having become less than annual in Northants over the past decade, these birds became a popular draw, usually allowing a close approach. While seven may initially appear to be a high number for one site, at least eleven were at Pitsford on 31st October 1996 and six were present there in January 2005. These numbers almost pale into insignificance, though, when as part of the current influx, Draycote Res in Warwickshire accumulated twenty-six on 27th and Rutland Water, Leicestershire held twenty-four on 26th. The sole record in 2019 was of one sickly individual picked up and taken into care at Weedon on 20th August but prior to that the last was one at Stanwick GP in August-September 2016.

Shag: distribution by year of Northamptonshire records over 30 years, 1990-2019. Image of juvenile at Pitsford Res, 24th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Propping up this week’s raptor stand, Ospreys were found at six sites, which included last week’s juvenile still at Fawsley Park Lake on 22nd, and singles flying south over Sywell and at Geddington on 24th, Pitsford on 24th and 27th, Stanford on 26th-27th and over the Brampton Valley on 27th. Pitsford also produced a Marsh Harrier on 24th.

Given the high fill levels of just about all our local bodies of water, waders were, unsurprisingly, few and far between. This week’s ‘haul’ was painfully limited, with one Whimbrel flying south over Harrington AF on 26th, two Black-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP on 24th, a juvenile Knot very briefly at Hollowell on 25th and nine equally ephemeral birds flying along the dam at Pitsford on 27th.

Juvenile Knot, Hollowell Res, 25th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

A Ruff remained at Summer Leys from 22nd until 26th and two visited Clifford Hill GP on 24th, while three Greenshanks were also at Summer Leys on 22nd, dwindling to just one on 26th and one was still on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 24th.

Greenshank Summer Leys LNR, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Gulls and terns were well represented this week, kicking off on day one with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull joining a mass of gulls following a plough east of Denton on 22nd. Two juveniles were then seen at Pitsford the next day. Pitsford also retained last week’s juvenile Caspian Gull, which was seen on 22nd and 25th and another juvenile joined twenty-two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick on 27th. Up to four Yellow-legs were on show at Pitsford throughout the week, although ten were present there on 24th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 28th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Pitsford’s run of prime birds continued with a juvenile Arctic Tern present from 22nd to 24th, while back in the Nene Valley, a juvenile Black Tern visited Summer Leys on 22nd.

The 27th turned out to be a phenomenal day for local ringers, with the Stanford Ringing Group processing an astonishing 639 birds, which included the week’s star, a gorgeous Wryneck. To be able to admire this intricately patterned bird at point-blank range was clearly just reward for the group’s hard work throughout the day at Stanford.

Wryneck, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Theo de Clermont)
Wryneck, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

With 13 years out of the last 20 producing records, Wryneck is on a par with Shag when it comes down to frequency of occurrence and number of records. Unlike that species, however, many individuals are surely overlooked …

Part of the above ringing haul included eight Common Redstarts and this species was again numerous with, in addition to the above, numbers between one and three at Brampton Valley, Borough Hill, Harrington AF, Lamport, Pitsford Res and Twywell Hills & Dales, while up to five were seen in the Old/Walgrave area.

Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 23rd August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

By contrast, Whinchat numbers fell again with up to two at Stanford between 22nd and 24th and one at Stanwick on 23rd. Northern Wheatears proved to be a little more numerous, with singles at Chelveston AF on 22nd, Collingtree, Little Brington, Old and Stanwick on 23rd, Pitsford on 25th-26th and Lamport on 27th, while two visited Clifford Hill on 23rd and up to two were at Stanford between 25th and 27th.

Northern Wheatear, Little Brington, 23rd August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Tree Pipits were very much in evidence this week, with Harrington AF producing between twelve and fifteen on 27th, six of which were trapped and ringed. Part of a widely noted national movement, this is the highest count for any site in Northants since the species last bred here.

Tree Pipit, Stanford Res, 23rd August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

One was also trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 23rd and another was seen in flight there on the ‘big day’ of 27th. Elsewhere, singles flew south at Irchester on 24th and Pitsford on 26th, when a single Crossbill flew south over the same site.

Rarity Round-up, 15th to 21st August 2020

With the heatwave over and temperatures 10°C lower than last week’s peak, a mixed bag of weather – backed principally by a southerly airstream – culminated in unseasonal gale-force winds at the end of the period. While wetland species continued to dominate, passerines proliferated and included the appearance of the first Pied Flycatchers of 2020.

More wildfowl were on the menu than during last week and while the Pink-footed Goose and female Ruddy Shelduck both continued to divide their time between the reservoirs of Hollowell and Ravensthorpe, the autumn’s first Garganey was found at Clifford Hill GP on 16th and two more appeared at Pitsford Res on 21st.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 16th August 2020 (John Nottingham)
Garganeys, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

At least four Red-crested Pochards were still present at the latter locality on 17th and a drake Common Scoter made a one-day stopover at Daventry CP on 15th.

With no reports last week, Cattle Egrets were again back in the picture at Stanwick GP, where one was seen on 16th, followed by four on 18th. Numbers of Great Egrets again continued to increase, with six localities each hosting between one and three birds, among which was a building development site at Cranford Road in Kettering.

Ospreys were also reported from six sites with, unsurprisingly, Hollowell producing the most, including three on 15th. Elsewhere, singles were at Pitsford on 16th, 17th and 20th, in flight, east, between Lamport and Maidwell on 16th, at Naseby Res on 19th and over Harrington AF on 21st, while a juvenile lingered at Fawsley Park Lake between 18th and 21st. The latter also date saw a juvenile Marsh Harrier flying south over Harrington.

Juvenile Osprey, Fawsley Park, 18th August 2020 (Linda Honeybourne)

This week’s top waders were limited to the same species as last week’s, albeit at different localities. Just one Whimbrel – again a fly-over – graced the skies above Boddington Res on 16th, while Black-tailed Godwits half returned to form with the 15th seeing one at Stanwick, three at Hollowell and eight at Ditchford GP and the following day producing one at Hollowell and four at Ditchford. Turnstones were again in the frame with two smart adults spending a day on the dam at Pitsford on 16th, which also held a Sanderling on 15th-16th.

Adult Turnstones, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Turnstone, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Sanderling Pitsford Res, 15th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

A sprinkling of Ruffs was confined to the Nene Valley, where one remained at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake between 15th and 19th, two visited Clifford Hill GP on 18th and one was at Summer Leys on 21st. One of last week’s Wood Sandpipers made it into this week, remaining at Hardwater Lake until 15th, the same site retaining up to two Greenshanks until 19th. Elsewhere, singles visited Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res on 16th and one was on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 21st.

Things were looking up on the gull front when a Little Gull dropped into Boddington Res on 16th, the same site producing a juvenile Mediterranean Gull on 20th. Further juvenile Meds were to be found on 15th, when one was at Daventry CP and two visited Pitsford, the latter site holding another on 21st, the day after one appeared at Ravensthorpe.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Juvenile Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The regular second-summer Caspian Gull remained at Hollowell until at least 15th, while a smart juvenile was on show at Pitsford on 21st but numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with Pitsford hanging on to its two long-staying adults throughout. Elsewhere, an adult visited Ditchford GP on 15th, two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 18th, a second-summer was at Boddington on 20th and one was found at Harrington on 21st.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Another autumn ‘first’ was a Black Tern briefly at Stanford before flying west, early on 17th – the same date upon which three were seen off the dam at Pitsford, while a juvenile appeared at Hollowell the following day.

Juvenile Black Tern, Hollowell Res, 18th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Said to have been hundreds on the east coast this week, it would have been almost inconceivable not to have had any Pied Flycatchers occurring locally. Sure enough, they came. Four of them. But those thinking they were in with a chance of connecting with one of this quartet were to be disappointed … The first was trapped and ringed at Stanford on 15th, immediately doing a bunk after its release. The second was at Borough Hill on 20th but would-be observers found precise site information concerning its whereabouts woefully lacking – those making the on spec trip there leaving empty-handed. The third, at Yardley Chase on 21st, was in a private woodland and the fourth was also said to be ‘on private land’. Say no more. There is still time for another …

Pied Flycatcher, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The ‘private land’ theme continued with the discovery of a juvenile Black Redstart near Byfield on 16th – the second of the autumn so far, these individuals occurring much earlier than normal, i.e. outside the expected October time window.

Juvenile Black Redstart, Byfield, 16th August 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Meanwhile, Common Redstarts were widespread, with at least six localities delivering, including one trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 15th, up to three at Harrington between 15th and 21st, the same number at Hellidon on 17th and at least four between Walgrave and Old on 20th, while singles were found at both Borough Hill and Hollowell Res on the same date.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Common Redstart, Hollowell Res, 20th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Following records from just one site last week, Whinchats rose to prominence during the period, the star locality being Borough Hill, where there were five on 18th, nine on 20th and two on 21st. Other favoured localities were Pitsford Res, Hellidon and Ditchford GP, each producing singles on 16th, 17th and 20th respectively, while two were at Harrington on 17th.

Whinchat, Borough Hill, 18th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Not to be outdone, Stonechats put in a token appearance, with up to two at Hellidon on 16th-17th, while Northern Wheatear numbers were up on last week, with one still at Clifford Hill GP on 16th, followed by four there two days later, on 18th. Elsewhere, singles were at Hellidon on 20th and at Borough Hill on 20th-21st.

Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 19th August 2020 (Ant Hall)

Tree Pipits and late August is the prime time these days for this long-lost county breeder, now reduced to scarce migrant status. Borough Hill laid claim to the lion’s share with four on 20th, while singles flew over the Brampton Valley at Brixworth on 18th and Hanging Houghton the following day. Crossbill numbers dwindled further with just three in flight at Harlestone Heath on 15th and two over Kentle Wood (Daventry) on 20th. It appears this species is now on the brink of slipping back to its scarce, pre-influx status …

Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th August 2020

Another week of high temperatures, peaking at 33°C on 12th, saw a continental airstream which resulted in north-easterlies for much of the period. Highlights were limited to the first 2020 records of Turnstone and Wood Warbler – but it could have been oh so different if a certain wader had played ball …

Hollowell Res – arguably the place to be during August – continued to prove attractive to birds and birders alike, hanging on to much of the previous week’s fare, including its somewhat dodgy Pink-footed Goose. Déjà vu and the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were again Red-crested Pochards, with Pitsford Res harbouring three eclipse drakes and a female/juvenile on 9th.

Numbers of Great Egrets continued to increase, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP again topping the locality leaderboard with numbers fluctuating daily and a maximum of five on 8th. Elsewhere, three visited Hollowell on 14th, up to two were seen at Pitsford throughout, and singles were at Stanwick GP on 10th and 14th.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 8th August 2020 (Paul Crotty)

Back on form, Hollowell produced the most Ospreys with twos on 8th and 11th and one on 12th, while Stanford Res hosted one on 8th and 9th and one was at Stanwick on 14th. Meanwhile, Stanford produced its fourth Marsh Harrier of the year, a juvenile, on 10th.

Osprey, male ‘T3’ from Rutland, fledged 2016, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Stanford Res, 10th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

But it’s back to Hollowell, where this week’s drama unfolds, with a fly-over adult Pacific Golden Plover, early on 9th. Light conditions put paid to the possibility of clinching that all-important underwing as the bird continued over high west, calling … and the call was spot-on! No view of the underwing, no sound recording and, therefore, no acceptance by the BBRC. It’s a life-haunting moment. Ouch. With PGPs in Suffolk, Northumberland, Donegal, Clare and a possible in Kent it’s clearly in the zone – and stirs memories of July 2013, when one was just up the road at Rutland Water, details of which are here.

Potential patch gold aside, in a week when Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake stole the thunder from Summer Leys, there were other waders to be had. Let’s face it, as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century, any waders in the county are good these days, now that the acres of autumn mud are no longer exposed and long, long gone from Pitsford, as the water authority is obliged to maintain high water levels to service the overpopulated mess we now find ourselves living in …

So, the pick of fourteen wader species to be found in the county this week starts with Whimbrel – four fly-overs at Hollowell on 10th and one over Harlestone Heath on 13th. Two Black-tailed Godwits again put in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 14th and the first Turnstone of 2020 – a juvenile – paid an all-too-brief visit to Stanwick on the same date.

Juvenile male Ruff, Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

The aforementioned Hardwater Lake attracted two Ruffs between 12th and 14th, the latter date panning out to be a good wader day under leaden skies, with misty and drizzly conditions also bringing Sanderlings to three localities – one at each of Stanwick and Boddington Res and at least nine at Pitsford, all of which visited the dam at some point beyond midday.

Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)
Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)

Back at Hardwater, things had warmed up nicely with two Wood Sandpipers playing centre stage between 9th and 14th and up to three Greenshanks during the same period. One or two of the latter hopped across the road to Summer Leys scrape on occasions. The only other Greenshanks were at Hollowell on 12th and at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

Wood Sandpipers (adult, left and juvenile), Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Greenshank, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 13th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Unsurprisingly, there was little change on the gull front. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull dropped into Daventry CP on 13th and the regular second-summer Caspian Gull was still present at Hollowell throughout but Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at five localities, which included single juveniles at Hardwater Lake on 11th, Summer Leys on 13th and Clifford Hill on 14th, while two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 13th and one or two adults were seen at Pitsford, on and off, throughout. A little earlier than usually expected, a juvenile Arctic Tern spent most of the day at Summer Leys on 14th. 

This week saw passerine migration stepping up out of second gear, with a Northern Willow Warbler trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 8th. This is only the fifth record of this subspecies, acredula, for the county, all previous records have come from the mist nets of Stanford, the last being in 2018.

Northern Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The same site also produced the first Wood Warbler in 2020, the following day and staying with Stanford, three Common Redstarts were there on 8th, while up to two were still at Harrington AF on 11th.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 11th August 2020 (David Arden)

Elsewhere, up to three Whinchats were at Chelveston AF between 10th and 12th and a Northern Wheatear was at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

A trickle of Crossbills continued but that’s all it was, with singles – all fly-overs – at Hollowell on 9th and 10th, Weldon on 10th, Brackley on 12th and two over Harrington AF on 11th.

Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th August 2020

A drier period than the last but rising temperatures throughout mirrored the previous week’s, peaking locally at 32°C on the last day, as a blast of hot southerlies reached us from deep within the continent. Perhaps associated with this, another Spoonbill put in a brief appearance for the third week running.

Escape, feral or just a malingering, would-be migrant, a Pink-footed Goose appeared at Hollowell Res on 6th – one of two days when the site’s female Ruddy Shelduck had chosen to visit nearby Ravensthorpe Res. Once again, the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res producing one on 1st, six on 4th and two on 6th.

And if Spoonbills were considered difficult to catch up with locally, then they still are, with this week’s itinerant bird putting in a twilight appearance at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake before moving quickly to Summer Leys LNR and then, reportedly, back to Hardwater lake to roost. Needless to say, by dawn’s early light, it had done a bunk …  Keeping a low profile this week, Cattle Egrets were seen on one date only, with three at Stanwick GP on 4th.

Adult Spoonbill, Earls Barton GP, 4th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Great Egrets became a little more widespread, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP claiming the lion’s share of four throughout the period while, on 2nd, one visited Daventry CP and was subsequently seen in flight, east, over nearby Borough Hill and at least one remained at Blatherwycke Lake.

In stark contrast to last week, the only Ospreys were singles at Stanford Res on 6th and 7th, while last week’s juvenile Marsh Harriers at Summer Leys and Pitsford were last seen on 1st and 4th, respectively.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 1st August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Notable waders remained low in numbers, with two Black-tailed Godwits putting in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 1st and two visiting Hollowell on 4th. But where are all the Greenshanks we normally see from July onwards? Just one lingered at Summer Leys from 3rd to 5th before transferring to nearby Hardwater Lake on 6th-7th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Hollowell Res, 4th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Greenshank, Earls Barton GP, 6th August 2020 (Leslie Fox)

A second-summer Little Gull spent some time at Daventry CP on 7th but it was large, white-headed gulls which, as usual, predominated with a first-summer Caspian Gull at Daventry CP on 7th and a second-summer Hollowell from 4th until the week’s end. This latter individual appears likely to be a male on account of its rather hefty build and large bill size but have some Yellow-legged Gull genes crept in somewhere from a past generation? Talking of which, at least one adult was at Pitsford from 4th to 6th and two adults plus two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 7th.

Second-summer Caspian Gull, Hollowel Res, 6th August 2020 (John Moon)

Passerine migration picked up a little, with Common Redstarts trapped and ringed at Harrington AF on 1st and Stanford Res on 4th and further singles at both Summer Leys and Gretton on 3rd. Like last week, just one Whinchat was found – this one at Chelveston AF on 7th and the autumn’s second Northern Wheatear was at Pitsford on 4th.

Male Common Redstart, Summer Leys LNR, 3rd August 2020 (Clive Bowley)
Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 4th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 4th August 2020 (David Arden)

Bucknell Wood hung on to at least twenty Crossbills throughout the week, twos were seen flying over Hollowell and Brackley on 1st and 2nd respectively and one was at Pitsford on 4th but the rarest passerine so far – a Corn Bunting – was found at Chelveston AF on 7th. There appear to have been no other records of this once common farmland species in the county this year …